Francis Hughes was born on February 28th 1956 in Tamlaghduff a townland of South Derry. Francis was the youngest of four brothers in a family of 10 siblings. Francis' family was steeped in Republicanism, his father Joseph had been a member of the IRA in the 1920's and one of his uncles had smuggled arms for the Republican movement. Francis first went to ST Mary's primary school in Bellaghy and then to Clady intermediate school. Francis began a painting and decorating apprenticeship at the age of 16 and finished his apprenticeship just before he had to go on the run. At the age of 17 Francis and a friend were stopped by British soldiers as they returned from a dance in Tyrone. They were taken out of their car and beaten savagely, Francis was bed ridden for days. This had a big impact on him and gave him an abiding belief in his Country's right to national liberation when he Joined the IRA.
The Official Republican Movement was relatively strong in the South Derry Area during the early part of the war and this was when Francis first became involved. He became disillusioned like many others when the Official IRA called a ceasefire in 1972. He left and with others he set up an Independent Military Unit in the Bellaghy Area. At the end of 1973 the entire unit was integrated into the Provisional IRA. In these early days Francis was regularly harassed by the British Army and RUC. Fearing his imminent arrest in 1975 Francis went on the run. He moved by night and slept when he could by day in either fields, ditches or safe houses. He openly carried his rifle, handgun and several grenades as well as food rations.
Francis became legendary around Ireland for his ability to evade capture, one such story encapsulates this. At a checkpoint Francis and his comrades were stopped by a UDR soldier. The soldier recognised Francis and knowing he wouldnt be taken without a shoot-out he waved the car on.
Francis had a reputation for being dedicated, fearless and a perfectionist. He inspired the Volunteers under his command by his gallant example, he was always at the forefront of armed actions.
On April 18th 1977 Francis and his comrades Dominic McGlinchey and Ian Milne were travelling in a car near the town of Moneymore when an RUC patrol carrying four crown forces signalled them to stop. They attempted to escape by performing a u-turn but lost control of the car which ended up in a ditch. They abandoned the car and opened fire on the RUC, killing two and wounding another before making their escape through the fields. Following the shooting Francis was named as the most wanted man in the six occupied counties.
On the 16th of March 1978, two SAS soldiers took up a take-out position opposite a farm about 2 miles west of Maghera in the townland of BallyKnock. During the night they saw two men in Military Uniform carrying rifles walking in single file towards them. They challenged the pair one of which was Francis Hughes and a fellow Volunteer. Without hesitation both Volunteers opened fire. One SAS man was mortally wounded while the other shot in the stomach still managed to fire a long burst from his sterling sub-machine gun at the retreating Volunteers. Fifteen hours after the shooting Francis was found sitting in the middle of a gorse bush in a field three hundred yards away bleeding heavily from a bullet wound in his leg. As he was taken away on a stretcher he shouted defiantly "up the provies". His comrade had managed to get away.
Francis spent ten months in Musgrave Park Military hospital in Belfast where his leg was operated on. On January 24th 1979 Francis was taken from the hospital to Castlereagh Interrogation Centre where he spent the next six days being tortured under interrogation but he was totally uncooperative and left his interrogators frustrated.
Francis spent a year on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol before his trial in Belfast in February 1980. He was found "guilty" on all charges. He received a life sentence for killing the SAS soldier and fourteen years for attempting to kill the other SAS man. He also received 55 years on other charges.
Francis immediately went on protest for political status and was involved in the 1980 hunger strike. He was the second political prisoner to join the hunger strike in 1981. On the 12th of May after 59 days without food Brave Francis Hughes died. His cousin Thomas McElwee was the ninth hunger striker to die.
" I have no prouder boast to say I am Irish and have been privileged to fight for the Irish people and for Ireland. If I have a duty I will perform it to the full with the unshakeable belief that we are a noble race and that chains and bounds have no part in us"